They said he was too chicken to do it. They said he never even built the rocket. And the more reasonable among them echoed what one NASA astronaut said about the self-taught rocket man: “I hope he doesn’t blow something up.”
But “Mad” Mike Hughes showed them all on March 24 near Amboy, California when he climbed into the $20,000 rocket he had built in his garage, launched upward at speeds around 350 mph, reached 1,875 feet, pulled one parachute, then another, and finally fell back to Earth, landing with a thud that left him with an aching back and his rocket with a split nose.
How does he feel?
“Relieved,” Hughes told reporters after being checked out by paramedics. “I’m tired of people saying I chickened out and didn’t build a rocket. I’m tired of that stuff. I manned up and did it.”
The 61-year-old limo driver had originally planned the launch for November of last year, but decided to postpone it due to mechanical problems and complications with the Bureau of Land Management. It’s probably best he waited for better conditions.
“This thing wants to kill you 10 different ways,” said Hughes, who kept an altimeter in his cockpit to measure altitude. “This thing will kill you in a heartbeat.”
Why would someone take the risk? For one, Hughes seems to be a man of ambition. He already has plans to build another rocket that would take him much higher: 68 miles up. He also wants to be Governor of California: “This is no joke,” he said. “I want to do it.”
But the most remarkable reason was that Hughes believes that Earth is flat, and he wanted to put that belief to the test in the most straightforward way imaginable: go up and see for himself.
“Do I believe the Earth is shaped like a Frisbee? I believe it is,” he said. “Do I know for sure? No. That’s why I want to go up in space.”
Hughes said this wasn’t the reason for his mission. But in the months preceding the launch, he was interviewed by flat-Earthers, and a GoFundMe campaign named Flat Earth Community Launch raised a total of $7,916 for his launch.
The donors didn’t get any evidence from Hughes about the shape of Earth, primarily because you need to reach an altitude of at least 35,000 feet to see the curvature of the Earth, and Hughes only reached 1,875 feet.
“Am I glad I did it? Yeah. I guess. I’ll feel it in the morning. I won’t be able to get out of bed. At least I can go home and have dinner and see my cats tonight.”
A documentary crew had been following Hughes before and during the mission, and there are plans to release the footage in August through the online TV channel Noize.
“My story really is incredible,” Hughes said. “It’s got a bunch of storylines—the garage-built thing. I’m an older guy. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, plus the flat Earth. The problem is it brings out all the nuts also, people questioning everything. It’s the downside of all this.”